Horse Digestive Health
Inside your tough, resilient horse is a delicate digestive system that’s easily disrupted.
By protecting your horse’s digestive health, you can care for them from the inside out for an unstoppable athletic career and a longer, healthier life.
Your Horse’s Digestive System
A horse’s digestive system is not quite like our simple digestive system, nor do they have the four-chambered stomach of a ruminant, such as a cow.
It’s something of a cross between the two. The start of their digestive system, called the foregut, consists of their stomach and their small intestine. Food passes quickly through their stomach into the small intestine, where enzymes begin the digestion process.
From the foregut, the food empties into the hindgut, which consists of the cecum, large colon, and finally, the small colon. The cecum is larger than the stomach, and this is where food spends the most time as it ferments, breaking down tough plant fibers into fatty acids that provide energy.
Common Digestive Health Issues In Horses
Your horse’s stomach is small in relation to their size, holding up to just 2 to 2.5 gallons of food and water. It’s constantly secreting hydrochloric acid. If your horse does not eat frequently, their stomach becomes very acidic, which can lead to gastric ulcers.
Turning your horse to pasture to graze can make them less likely to get ulcers. Feeding alfalfa hay can also help, as its high protein and calcium content have been shown to help buffer the stomach acid for up to five hours after feeding.
Ulcers are a bigger problem for horses who travel, affected about 70 percent of horses within a week of attending competitions and fairs. You can use a preventative product like UlcerGard before events to protect your horse against travel- and stress-related ulcers.
Horses are also prone to colic, which affects the hindgut. Colic is a general term for stomach pain. It’s typically caused by stress and may resolve on its own, In some cases, it’s caused by impaction or a twist in the intestines, and emergency veterinary care is necessary to save the horse’s life.
Colic, like ulcers, seem to happen less often to horses who get plenty of turnout time. To protect your horse’s digestive health, they should get many opportunities to graze. If that’s not possible, make sure to provide lots of quality hay.
How To Protect Your Horse’s Digestive Health
Besides turning your horse out to graze as much as possible, there are other ways to keep their digestive system running smoothly.
Always provide a fresh, clean water source. Providing a salt block or adding a small amount of apple juice as a flavor enhancer can encourage them to stay hydrated.
Keep a regular deworming schedule to ensure your horse stays parasite free. Talk to your vet about choosing a dewormer and setting the best schedule for your horse.
Also keep an eye on your horse’s teeth. Dental issues can cause improper chewing, which can lead to indigestion.
Contact your veterinarian if your horse has symptoms of digestive issues, including diarrhea, constipation, pain (often indicated by rolling or pawing at their belly), drooling, bloating, and sudden changes in appetite.